The American Motorcyclist Association opposes the Wild Lands policy because it can restrict responsible off-highway vehicle riding with little or no public input.

On Aug. 2, U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) and U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) announced that Wild Lands has been revived within the federal Department of the Interior.

A news release from Bishop’s office states that federal Bureau of Land Management guidance manuals recently discovered by Bishop and Hatch show that the DOI “has resurrected the controversial Wild Lands policy killed by Congress in April 2011. Included in the manuals is language directly liftedfrom Secretarial Order 3310 and its supporting documents, known as the DOI’s Wild Lands memo, illustrating how BLM employees are to identify and manage lands with wilderness characteristics.

“Congressman Rob Bishop and Senator Orrin Hatch, along with other senators and representatives from the West, today issued a letter toSecretary Ken Salazar outlining concerns and questions about the DOI’s efforts to re-establish Wild Lands through the new guidance manuals,” the news release said. [BLM guidance manual No. 1 and No. 2]

“Even though these proposals have already been overwhelmingly rejected, the administration is attempting to administratively put these policies in place,” Hatch said. “This proposal will give Washington bureaucrats more control over the lands in Utah and across the West. It’s wrong, and the Interior Department needs to stop trying to keep the public off public lands.”

Said Bishop: “I am troubled and angered by similarities found between the contents of the handbooks and the defunct Wild Lands proposal. This is clearly an effort to establish ‘Wild Lands 2.0’ and abandons all previous commitments Secretary Salazar made to me and many other western members to work openly and collaboratively on new land management practices.

“Excerpts within these handbooks clearly depict a thinly veiled effort on behalf of this administration to further limit access to our nation’s public lands,” he said. “I expect a prompt response from Secretary Salazar and will continue to pursue this issue to ensure that the livelihoods of westerners are protected.”

For some background, on Dec. 22, 2010, Salazar signed Secretarial Order 3310 creating a new land-use designation called Wild Lands that essentially allowed officials in the federal BLM to manage public land as if it had received a “Wilderness” land-use designation from Congress, but without requiring congressional approval.

Now, this latest policy appears to revive Wild Lands and its implementation may restrict responsible off-highway riding in the affected areas.

If true, the de facto resurrection of the Wild Lands policy would be in violation of the congressional funding moratorium that prohibits the use of appropriated funds to implement, administer, or enforce Secretarial Order 3310.

Furthermore, these manuals appear to contradict a June 1, 2011, DOImemorandum directing Abbey to not designate any lands as Wild Lands. This memorandum reversed Secretarial Order 3310.

Subsequently, Salazar said the BLM will work in collaboration with members of Congress to identify public land that may be appropriate candidates for congressional protection under the Wilderness Act. Now it appears this may not be the case.

A Wilderness designation is one of the strictest forms of public land management. Once Congress designates an area as Wilderness, nearly all forms of non-pedestrian recreation are illegal. The AMA supports appropriate Wilderness designations that meet the criteria established by Congress in 1964, but anti-access advocates have been using the administrative and legislative process to ban responsible OHV recreation on public land.

This recent action by the BLM is another reason that the riding community must remain vigilant in protecting responsible access to our public land. The AMA encourages the OHV community to get involved and to participate with a local BLM Resource Advisory Council.

If the Wild Lands policy reemerges, anti-access advocates and the administration are once again seeking an end-run around Congress. Salazar’s order has far-reaching implications because the BLM manages about 245 million acres of public land nationwide, primarily in western states.

The AMA needs all its members and OHV enthusiasts to write their senators and representatives today. You can follow the “Take Action” option to send a pre-written email directly to your senators and representative urging them to oppose any usurpation of congressional authority with regards to public land designations.

Image courtesy American Motorcyclist Association

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